What To Do When Meditation is Too Hard
Originally written as a series for The Dragontree
When I recommend meditation to a patient, I often have to help them over several hurdles. The first is convincing them of the value in doing it. In the previous article in this series, I wrote about the benefits of meditation, and there are really so many that it’s worthwhile for anyone and everyone.
The next hurdle is making the time for it. Try scheduling it into your day like you would any appointment. If community helps keep you on track, join with a friend or a meditation group. As an added benefit, it’s often easier to slip into a deep meditative state with many other meditators. Consider setting aside a corner of your home for the specific purpose of meditating. Put a comfortable chair or cushion there, and perhaps a candle, a plant, or something else that helps you feel peaceful. Don’t be daunted by the idea that it needs to take a long time. Start with just a few minutes. Or just a single minute. Or even just one breath. (You can read about a single breath meditation here.) <<<<<<<<<<link to meditation and the lottery
Finally, after deciding to do it and making time for it, the next hurdle is that it’s just too hard. Too hard to sit still, too hard to focus, too hard to not get all fidgety and jump up and run around the room yelling. I completely understand. My mind wants to chew on ideas and stay busy as much as anyone’s. So, here are three perspectives that I hope will be helpful.
- If it feels hard, you’re doing it wrong. I’m kind of joking, but mostly serious. There is, for sure, a certain difficulty to meditation, which is why novices must almost always start with short sessions. One of the trickiest of such difficulties to argue with is the physical discomfort many of us feel from simply sitting still for a while. Isn’t it interesting how we’re able to sit relatively still for a meal or hours of work, but without anything to do, it’s torture?
So, if it feels hard because your body hurts when you meditate, then do more yoga. This is one of its core purposes – to allow the practitioner to spend long periods in seated meditation. If you have pre-existing pain, meditation may well improve it.
But what I’m really speaking to is the idea that it’s hard to do meditation. When we find ourselves thinking this way, I believe we’re out of touch with the highest purpose of meditation, which is not to attain a particular state of consciousness or master some technique.
One of my favorite teachers on the subject of meditation is a guy named Adyashanti, who I like because he’s so refreshingly clear, humble, and sincere. He writes, “Meditation is the art of allowing everything to simply be in the deepest possible way. In order to let everything be, we must let go of the effort to control and manipulate our experience. The attitude conducive to meditation is one of surrender, effortlessness, and openness. True meditation has no direction or goal. It is pure silent surrender, pure silent prayer.” From this perspective, we can see that the only “hard” part about meditation is really our own unwillingness to surrender.
- Trying focusing on something. If the mind is so relentlessly bent on having a focus, give it a focus. This is one of the main purposes of mantra, which you can read about in my article, You Can’t Put the Genie Back in the Bottle. Besides mantra, you can focus on your breath, you can focus on a candle flame, you can focus on a picture of your cat, you can focus on your heart or your third eye, or on imaginary roots growing down into the earth from the soles of your feet.
If you can’t even sit still, consider starting with qi gong, tai chi, or yoga. One of the most valuable rewards of these practices is that they guide you to a meditative state while the body is physically active and the mind is occupied.
- Let the form fall away. Here’s Adyashanti again: “It is important to understand that when doing meditation, you are making a commitment to something other than your restless mind. When you first start to meditate, you notice that attention is often being held captive by focusing on some object: on thoughts, bodily sensations, emotions, memories, sounds, etc. In true meditation all objects (thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, etc.) are left to their natural functioning. This means that no effort should be made to focus on, manipulate, control, or suppress any object of awareness. In true meditation the emphasis is on being awareness – not on being aware of objects, but on resting as conscious being In meditation you are not trying to change your experience; you are changing your relationship to your experience.”
Although practices like yoga and tai chi can help you to avoid becoming restless and lost in your thoughts, the mind is still running the show to a certain degree. See these arts as stepping stones to seated meditation (and wonderful self-care techniques). Over time, you’ll find it possible to stay in a meditative state with just a mantra or by following the breath. Yet, the deepest peace, expansiveness, and freedom may elude you due to the object-focused nature of even these subtle inward techniques. Eventually, you’ll feel most liberated by letting the form fall away. As Adyashanti says, “Be inclined toward less and less technique. Make time during each meditation period to simply rest as silent, still awareness.”
It’s a funny thing to lead someone via articles to the experience of themselves as awareness when every word I write is fodder for the mind that veils this awareness. Like all words, these ones can only point the way. Here’s hoping we all get there sooner than later.
Dr. Peter Borten
Copyright 2017 by Peter Borten. All rights reserved.